It may seem like an odd question; indeed an oxymoron, or doublespeak, or even just plain nonsense. But play with me on the logic.
Let us first define an atheist.
An atheist is one who does not believe in god. More to the point, at least to some theists, is one who does not believe in their god.
An atheist may not believe in a god for several reasons. One reason is that the person has no knowledge of a particular god through ignorance. And then there are others who believe that god, at least the Christian god who is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-merciful, cannot logically exist. But the biggest, and most popular reason for people to be, or become, atheistic is there is insufficient evidence for a god’s existence.
And now let’s look at what defines a Christian.
A person may reasonably call himself a Christian if he accepts as true at least one of the following belief systems.
1) The Bible contains an infallible moral code that should be followed.
This belief immediately runs into several serious problems.
“If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, that is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he hath humbled her; he may not put her away all his days.” (Deut. 22:28-29)
In other words, a rapist must marry a virgin he has raped and has paid 50 shekels to her father, and is not to be further punished (but only if he is caught in the act).
On the same par, slavery is not condemned, but rather condoned. Let’s take a look at these passages;
“When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she will not be freed at the end of six years as the men are. If she does not please the man who bought her, he may allow her to be bought back again. But he is not allowed to sell her to foreigners, since he is the one who broke the contract with her. And if the slave girl’s owner arranges for her to marry his son, he may no longer treat her as a slave girl, but he must treat her as his daughter. If he himself marries her and then takes another wife, he may not reduce her food or clothing or fail to sleep with her as his wife. If he fails in any of these three ways, she may leave as a free woman without making any payment.” (Exodus 21:7-11)
“When a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod so hard that the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, the slave survives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his own property.” (Exodus 21:20-21).
One might complain that this is all Old Testament (OT) stuff, and Christ came to do away with OT rules of behaviors. Very well, let’s take a look at the NT.
Christ himself could not bring himself to condemn or even call a halt to slavery.
“Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it. When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.” (Luke 7:7-10)
Christ may have healed the slave. He could have, however, being all powerful and knowing, chosen to free the slave. But he did not. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with slavery in Christ’s eyes.
His immediate followers didn’t do any better.
“Christians who are slaves should give their masters full respect so that the name of God and his teaching will not be shamed. If your master is a Christian, that is no excuse for being disrespectful. You should work all the harder because you are helping another believer by your efforts. Teach these truths, Timothy, and encourage everyone to obey them.” (1 Timothy 6:1-2)
Of course slaves had to obey their masters. To refuse to carry out a master’s orders is unthinkable.
And finally, God himself sanctions genocide;
“As for the towns of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you must not let anything that breathes remain alive. You shall annihilate them—the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites—just as the Lord your God has commanded.” (Deut. 20:16–18)
This does not sound like a good moral code.
2) Being a Christian means to establish a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and accept Him as one’s own personal savior.
OK, let’s say someone did establish a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and accept Him as one’s own personal savior against evil and eternal suffering. So what?
This belief does encompass, or even suggest, how a person might help others, or the human race, or the physical world around him. According to this belief system, there is no need to donate food, blood, money, clothing, or one’s own personal time to those who are less fortunate.
Nor is there any need to invest in one’s health, education, finances, or personal relationships. And it is OK to be entirely selfish. And don’t worry about committing crime either. If you truly have a personal relationship with Christ, you will surely go to heaven just as the most benevolent saint.
3) A Christian is one who attempts to emulate Christ.
I am not suggesting that one needs to walk on water, raise the dead, or multiply bread and fish. Those are miracles, outside of realm of human beings. I am suggesting the part that one only has to attempt, not necessarily succeed in Christ’s benevolent ways. (Although I personally think walking on water would be a neat trick.) Back to the essay.
Whether Christ is actually a prophet, an exaggeration of a philosopher, a literary character, or actually the son of the Almighty, he has become a symbol of compassion, mercy, forgiveness, love, wisdom, humility, and self-sacrifice.
Surprised about the possible literary possibility? Here are some recent classical literary works, in which major elements of Christ’s life are borrowed and used.
(Gandalf) J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
(Aslan) C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
(Simon) William Golding‘s Lord of the Flies
It is not unreasonable to assume that Christ-like figures might precede Christ. Just suggesting this possibility, as the Bible, if nothing else, is a great literature book, jam-packed of unforgettable characters and miraculous events, and full of symbols, play on words, ironic twists, and Greek-like tragedies.
It is possible that Christ was a modified or exaggerated character of the past, a character created to tell and spread the “Good News”, or a compilation of various pious figures in history and/or mythology.
Again, let’s get back to the essay. 😉
Christ, according to the bible, visited prostitutes, the poor, strangers, and the destitute, and incredibly, even the taxman. He gave comfort to those in need, fed 5000 men (and an unknown number of women and children – see above about the miracle of bread and fish), healed many people (including those who he never met), and even forgave the one who betrayed him (Judas, in case you didn’t know) and those who crucified him.
He valued peace and love above anything else. Here are two examples;
1) Share your love, even to your enemy.
“ Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also.
And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.
Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.” (Matt.5:38-42)
“But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you,
Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.
And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloke forbid not to take thy coat also.
Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again.
And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” (Luke 6:27-31)
Here Luke mentions the Golden Rule.
2) Keeping the peace with the one’s own government.
“So Jesus told them, ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Luke 20:25 & Matt. 22:21).
But at, or near the top, at least according to me, is that he didn’t force anyone to join him. He believed so much in free choice that he even let Judas betray him.
And if all these examples, minus any miracles, are the very definition of a Christian, and certainly a worthwhile attempt by most people, can someone, like an atheist, be just as loving, wise, peaceful, and compassionate, and humble as a Christian?